Despite being sidetracked with illnesses, the Ogden Mustangs somehow managed to find a way to win last weekend over the Utah Outliers, capturing the Western States Hockey League Mountain Division Championship.
The gutsy performance is no surprise to Mustang fans, who have watched the team bounce back from opposition all season long. Whether that’s meant coming back from late-game deficits or stepping up when their star player went down with an injury for a stretch or winning a division title while nearly the entire team had strep, this team is no stranger to winning with composure and resiliency.
“This weekend we showed just how resilient of a team we can be,” said Mustangs head coach Jake Laime. “The odds were definitely not in our favor as we took the ice Friday, with our history of wins vs. losses in Salt Lake City, plus the fact we hadn’t practiced due to illness, I wasn’t sure what to expect.”
Only three Mustang players were on the ice for practice as recent as last Wednesday.
The Mustangs had lost all three games in Salt Lake against the Outliers this season, by a combined score of 12-3.
Still, the Mustangs were able to battle to back-to-back overtime victories to sweep the series.
“I think when we play to our capability, we have, and will continue, to surprise ourselves,” Laime said. “I’d like to say we are peaking at the right time. I’d like to say that we will find the consistency needed moving forward. Hard work and perseverance is rewarded.”
The Mustangs now move on the the WSHL championship event: the Thorne Cup Finals.
In Game 1 last weekend, the Mustangs top line took charge as Matus Spodniak opened the scoring and added a second goal in the third period on the powerplay. The Outliers battled back to tie the game with their goalie pulled in the final minutes to force overtime. Just 29 seconds into the sudden-death overtime period, Jacob Laurin scored his second of the game to give the Mustangs the series lead.
The team was exhausted after the victory. Perhaps no one more than Mustang goaltender Tymen Edelkoort III who had a remarkable outing in goal, making 39 saves in the game.
On Saturday morning, Edelkoort reached out to Laime, telling him he gave everything he could on Friday and didn’t have enough left in the tank for Game 2. At 10:30 a.m., Laime told Jon Chin that he’d get the start in goal in Edelkoort’s place, his first in-game action since Feb. 4, nearly two months ago.
“I was nervous at first when I got the call,” Chin said, “but I told myself that I’ve faced probably millions of shots in practices and in games leading up to this, and that every day of practice was a preparation for this moment, a chance to win a division championship. I told myself to give it my all, play my game and have fun.”
Chin would go on to make 37 saves on 38 shots to backstop the Mustangs to a 2-1 overtime victory in Game 2. Ross Bartlett had the Mustangs’ first goal. Tyson Liverance had the game winner in overtime, sending the Mustangs spilling onto the ice and piling on top of him in celebration.
“It’s not easy playing without your usual starting goalie,” Chin said, “but the team played great defense and gave me tons of support. The series overall was a good test, where defense really was the key to winning. Everyone knows we’re a high-powered offensive team, but we showed in this series that we can play on the defensive side of the puck too.”
The division championship is the Mustangs’ third in the team’s last five years. All three have come on the road, previously in McCall, Idaho and Casper, Wyo.
The Mustangs now have some time to rest up for the finals, which is a six-team event, hosted by the El Paso Rhinos this season. The games will be played April 11-15. The Mustangs hosted the finals last year and were just one win away from getting to the championship game for the Thorne Cup.
The Thorne Cup Finals format puts the teams in two flights consisting of three teams each. Each team plays a round robin against the teams in the opposite flight over the first three days. The teams with the most points after three games advance to the semifinals on day four. The winners of the semifinals advance to a championship game on day five.
The Mustangs’ Day 1 opponent in El Paso will be the wildcard team who made the event, being the remaining division finalist with the most regular season points. That team, of course, is none other than the Outliers. It will be the 12th meeting between the teams in total this season. The Mustangs will face the Long Beach Bombers on Day 2 and the Oklahoma City Blazers on Day 3.
“Our team has faced and overcome adversity all season,” Chin said. “I think going into El Paso we have a lot of confidence. We’ve shown when we play together as a team, and play our game, we can beat anybody.”